Mac users keen to give Google’s Chrome a try have had to endure a long wait compared to Windows users who have had a public stable release available to them since December last year. The wait is finally over with Google publicly releasing an official developer preview but, although it seems stable enough for daily use, there are a few caveats that may make it a good idea for most users to wait a little longer before using Chrome on a day-to-day basis.
Since it is a very early release version Google itself warns that the Mac OS X Developer Release of Chrome is lacking in some of the functionality that a full general release would have. For the security conscious this includes the inability to stop information, such as text entered into the address bar that Google uses for its Suggest feature, being sent to Google. Also Chrome uses Google as the selected search engine since the selection of other search engines isn’t currently supported. Other obvious omissions include the inability to print pages and the lack of an easy way to fullscreen the browser window.
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Contrary to other reports doing the rounds Flash support is enabled by default but it is a hit and miss affair. Flash videos that auto play, like YouTube videos, will play, and it is possible to pause the video or navigate with the slider. However, all Flash sites and Flash games we tried didn't work at all since mouse events weren't captured. Some users have reported playing Flash videos as a good way to trigger a crash, but we haven't encountered too many problems in our testing so far. If this happens though it's a good idea to check Activity Monitor to force quit any unresponsive Chromium processes since simply quitting Chrome won’t necessarily do the job.
Most users will quickly discover that Chrome is still prone to crashes, but on the upside the crashes will stay isolated since each tab is sandboxed to run its own process. Although this means the browser will use much more memory when multiple tabs are open, it does stop you losing work in other tabs when one of the tabs decides to go down. Another benefit of this feature is that malicious websites that attempt to use browser vulnerabilities to crack into a system are locked into the sandbox created for each tab.
Unlike other tabbed browsers, the tabs themselves are located at the very top of the browser - a format that popped up in betas of Safari 4 but didn’t make it to the final release. This can take a little getting used to, but if you like your tabs where they are you’ll want to avoid Chrome. There is also a new tab page similar to Safari 4’s “Top Sites” feature that displays thumbnail links to recently visited and most visited pages.
In the speed stake Chrome feels pretty quick. It is definitely faster than the latest version of Firefox and seems at least as fast as Safari 4, if not faster. It supports the import of bookmarks, settings, and history from your current browser and uses the Mac OS X keychain for storing and retrieving online passwords.
The Mac OS X Developer Release of Chrome marks the first step in Google’s three-step release channel. The next step will be the release of a Beta version, followed by a build Google is comfortable to label “Stable”.
A Google spokesman has gone so far as to say that users shouldn’t download this version unless they are willing to endure frequent crashes and a generally not-so-great experience. If you’re happy to put up with such aggravation, or are just the overly curious type, feel free to download Chrome and let us know your experiences - positive and negative.